Yes, there are three other candidates in the mix, but the 3rd Congressional District race is still primarily about two Republican House incumbents — Lafayette’s Charles Boustany and New Iberia’s Jeff Landry — duking it out to represent southwestern Louisiana because redistricting forced them together.
Landry will keep painting Boustany as an outdated Washington insider, while Boustany will continue to refer to Landry as a quote machine focused on bumper-sticker politics.
They are both solidly conservative Republicans and they agree with each other on the vast majority of issues and votes. It can be argued that Landry, with his tea party support, is the more staunchly — or extremely — conservative, depending on one’s preferred euphemism.
But where they definitively differ on some major legislative and economic issues is strategy. Landry would prefer to take the more nuclear, hold-the-line approach and force the Democrats to cave, whereas Boustany is more willing to dig in and hash out agreements and, in some cases, compromises.
Look at their preferred strategies for dealing with hanging issues like the “fiscal cliff” — the Jan. 1 expiration of the Bush and Obama administrations tax cuts and the beginning of $110 billion in defense and non-defense cuts — and major pieces of legislation like the federal farm bill that the House leadership will not yet take up.
Now that the House has recessed through the Nov. 6 elections, Landry’s preferred method is to cancel the lame-duck session in November and December altogether, hope GOP nominee Mitt Romney defeats President Barack Obama, allow the fiscal cliff to hit, then come back in early 2013 and retroactively undo the expiration of the tax cuts, undo the sequestration defense cuts and begin making strategic deep cuts elsewhere.
“Any time there’s a lame duck, I think it’s bad for the American people,” said Landry, arguing that bad compromises get made when rushed. “It’s going to force us to work the minute they swear us back in (January).”
And if Obama wins and the Democrats hold onto the Senate?
“Then there’ll be a whole lot of fighting,” Landry said.
Boustany, on the other hand, said he hates that major issues were forced into the lame-duck session but added that there needs to be a strong concerted effort to work out the tax cuts, defense cuts and farm bill before the year’s end.
“That’s absurdly irresponsible,” Boustany said of canceling the congressional work in November and December. “The fact of the matter is it has to be dealt with. Things will not be any easier legislatively next year.”
If a farmer dies in January, Boustany said, his family would be hit with a significant increase in the estate tax. Likewise, defense contractors are already beginning to implement layoffs, he said, so these issues cannot wait.
Of course, Landry blames Boustany and the Republican and Democratic leadership for agreeing last year on the Budget Control Act to lift the debt ceiling.
“I’m furious about it,” Landry said.
That vote set up the now-failed Super Committee to find an additional $1.2 trillion in cuts over 10 years. The fallback was the “sequestration” cuts of across-the-board defense and non-defense discretionary spending.
Boustany argues the Budget Control Act still included $1 trillion in cuts in 10 years already being implemented and that the “sequestration” cuts will force agreements to be worked out — or at least force an agreed-upon postponement — because Republicans and Democrats all agree they hate the sequestration cuts.
“It’s the proverbial gun at the head of Congress to force them to get it done,” Boustany said, arguing that he would have liked to already have worked out the problems. “It’s unfortunate it’s come to that though.”
Not reaching the debt ceiling agreement last year, Boustany said, would have caused a government default and thrown the country right back into a bad recession or worse.
As for the debt ceiling vote, although no one praises them, such votes to increase borrowing were much more routine until last year. The reality is the debt ceiling was raised 18 times under Ronald Reagan and eight under Bill Clinton, compared with three under Obama.
Boustany said he would rather focus on comprehensive tax code reform in 2013 than revisit the issues of 2012. Of course, Boustany will not be in Congress in 2013 if Landry gets his way.
Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@theadvocate.